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by Ivan Illich
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Tools for Conviviality (1973) was published only two years after Deschooling Society. In this new work Illich generalized the themes that he had previously applied to the field of education: the institutionalization of specialized knowledge, the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society, and the need to develop new instruments for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the average citizen. Illich proposed that we should “invert the present deep structure of tools” in order to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.”

Tools for Conviviality attracted worldwide attention. A resume of it was published by French social philosopher André Gorz in Les Temps Modernes, under the title “Freeing the Future.” The book’s vision of tools that would be developed and maintained by a community of users had a significant influence on the first developers of the personal computer, notably Lee Felsenstein.

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The multidimensional analysis of ceilings for industrial growth was first formulated in a Spanish document co-authored by Valentina Borremans and myself and submitted as a guideline for a meeting of two dozen Chilean socialists and other Latin Americans at CIDOC (the Center for Intercultural Documentation) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The next version was presented at the Zeno Symposium organized by Professor Richard Wollheim in Cyprus. It was published in Esprit, Paris, March 1972, with criticisms by [...]

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During the next several years I intend to work on an epilogue to the industrial age. I want to trace the changes in language, myth, ritual, and law which took place in the current epoch of packaging and of schooling. I want to describe the fading monopoly of the industrial mode of production and the vanishing of the industrially generated professions this mode of production serves. Above all I want to show that two-thirds of mankind still can avoid passing through the industrial age, by [...]

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The year 1913 marks a watershed in the history of modern medicine. Around that year a patient began to have more than a fifty-fifty chance that a graduate of a medical school would provide him with a specifically effective treatment (if, of course, he was suffering from one of the standard diseases recognized by the medical science of the time). Many shamans and herb doctors familiar with local diseases and remedies and trusted by their clients had always had equal or better results. S [...]

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The symptoms of accelerated crisis are widely recognized. Multiple attempts have been made to explain them. I believe that this crisis is rooted in a major twofold experiment which has failed, and I claim that the resolution of the crisis begins with a recognition of the failure. For a hundred years we have tried to make machines work for men and to school men for life in their service. Now it turns out that machines do not “work” and that people cannot be schooled for a life at the se [...]

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The human equilibrium is open. It is capable of shifting within flexible but finite parameters. People can change, but only within bounds. In contrast, the present industrial system is dynamically unstable. It is organized for indefinite expansion and the concurrent unlimited creation of new needs, which in an industrial environment soon become basic necessities. Once the industrial mode of production has become dominant in a society, it may still admit shifts from one type of output to [...]

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The precarious balance between man and the biosphere has been recognized and has suddenly begun to worry many people. The degradation of the environment is dramatic and highly visible. For years car traffic in Mexico City increased steadily under a sparkling sky. Then, within a couple of years, smog descended and soon became worse than in Los Angeles. This phenomenon can be easily discussed and appreciated by people who have never studied science. Poisons of unknown potency are discharged [...]

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When overefficient tools are applied to facilitate man’s relations with the physical environment, they can destroy the balance between man and nature. Overefficient tools corrupt the environment. But tools can also be made overefficient in quite a different way. They can upset the relationship between what people need to do by themselves and what they need to obtain ready-made. In this second dimension overefficient production results in radical monopoly. By radical monopoly I mean a [...]

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The balance of learning is determined by the ratio of two kinds of knowledge in a society. The first is a result of the creative action of people on their environment, and the second represents the result of man’s “trivialization” by his manufactured milieu. Their first kind of knowledge is derived from the primary involvement of people with each other and from their use of convivial tools; the second accrues to them as a result of purposeful and programmed training to which they are [...]

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The present organization of tools impels societies to grow both in population and in levels of affluence. This growth takes place at the opposite ends of the privilege spectrum. The underprivileged grow in number, while the already privileged grow in affluence. The underprivileged thus strengthen their frustrating claims, while the rich defend their presumed rights and needs. Hunger and impotence lead the poor to demand rapid industrialization, and the defense of growing luxuries pushes t [...]

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Convivial reconstruction demands the disruption of the present monopoly of industry, but not the abolition of all industrial production. It does imply the adoption of labor-intensive tools, but not the regression to inefficient tools. It requires a considerable reduction of all kinds of now compulsory therapy, but not the elimination of teaching, guidance, or healing for which individuals take personal responsibility. Neither must a convivial society be stagnant. Its dynamics depend on wi [...]

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I have identified five realms in each of which the efficiency of tools can upset the balance of life. Faulty technology can render the environment uninhabitable. Radical monopoly can force the demand for affluence to the point of paralyzing the ability to work. Overprogramming can transform the world into a treatment ward in which people are constantly taught, socialized, normalized, tested, and reformed. Centralization and packaging of institutionally produced values can polarize society [...]

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I have discussed five dimensions on which the balance of life depends. In each I have indicated tendencies that must be kept in equilibrium to maintain the homeostasis which constitutes human life. I have argued that the control of natural forces is functional only if the use of nature does not make nature useless for man. I have argued that institutions are functional when they promote a delicate balance between what people can do for themselves and what tools at the service of anonymous [...]

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Above all, political discussion is stunned by a delusion about science. This term has come to mean an institutional enterprise rather than a personal activity, the solving of puzzles rather than the unpredictably creative activity of individual people. Science is now used to label a spectral production agency which turns out better knowledge just as medicine produces better health. The damage done by this misunderstanding about the nature of knowledge is even more fundamental than the damage don [...]

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Between 1830 and 1850 a dozen inventors formulated the law of the conservation of energy. Most of them were engineers, and independently from each other they redefined the floating life force of the universe in terms of work machines could perform. Measurements that could be taken in the laboratory became the scale by which the mysterious cosmic nexus—called vis viva for centuries—could henceforth be defined. During the same period industry successfully competed with other modes of produc [...]

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Support of an ever-expanding productive society has become the overwhelmingly dominant purpose of the existing structure of politics and law. The procedure by which people decide what ought to be done has become subservient to the ideology that corporations ought to produce more: more knowledge and decisions, more goods and services. This perversion constitutes the third obstacle to the translation of the need for a bounded society into actual social process. Political parties, legislatures, [...]

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If within the very near future man cannot set limits to the interference of his tools with the environment and practice effective birth control, the next generations will experience the gruesome apocalypse predicted by many ecologists. Faced with these impending disasters, society can stand in wait of survival within limits set and enforced by bureaucratic dictatorship. Or it can engage in a political process by the use of legal and political procedures. Ideologically biased interpretations of t [...]

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The ultimate obstacle to the restructuring of society is not the lack of information about which limits are needed, nor the lack of people who would accept them if they became inevitable, but the power of political myths. Almost everyone in rich societies is a destructive consumer. Almost everyone is, in some way, engaged in aggression against the milieu. Destructive consumers constitute a numerical majority. Myth transforms them into a political one. Numerical majorities come to form a mythi [...]

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I can only conjecture on how the breakdown of industrial society will ultimately become a critical issue. But I can make rather firm statements about the qualifications for providing guidance within the coming crisis. I believe that growth will grind to a halt. The total collapse of the industrial monopoly on production will be the result of synergy in the failure of the multiple systems that fed its expansion. This expansion is maintained by the illusion that careful systems engineering can sta [...]

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Forces tending to limit production are already at work within society. Public, counterfoil research can significantly help these individuals become more cohesive and self-conscious in their indictment of growth they consider destructive. We can anticipate that their voices will acquire new resonance when the crisis of overproductive society becomes acute. They form no constituency, but they are spokesmen for a majority of which everyone is a potential member. The more unexpectedly the crisis com [...]

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When I speak about emerging interest groups and their preparation, I am not speaking of action groups, or of a church, or of new kinds of experts. I am above all not speaking about one political party which could assume power at a moment of crisis. Management of the crisis would make catastrophe irreversible. A well-knit, well-trained party can establish its power at the moment of a crisis in which the choice to be made is one within an over-all system. Such was the Great Depression. What was at [...]

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